What is the housing first model?

September 11, 2019

The housing first model is a relatively new approach to help homeless populations get back on their feet. Historically speaking, cities thought that the best way to solve homelessness was to address the cause of why people became homeless like addiction, lost job, mental illness. It wasn’t until recently that cities realized that it’s very hard for homeless people to gain back their independence without a stable living environment. 

This idea was first developed in the 1980’s in Los Angeles as a response to a spike in homeless families with children. The model means getting homeless families and individuals in to permanent, affordable housing first and then addressing the deeper issues. It’s significantly harder to get a new job without a consistent bed to sleep in and clean clothing.

It’s important to note that it is NOT a housing only approach. The help does not stop once a family has been placed in permanent housing. There are still steps to address and deeper struggles such as mental illness, lost job, addiction, etc. There are currently housing first programs operating in cities across America including New York, Los Angeles and of course, Austin, Tx.

Austin has a homeless population of around 2,200. The city council in Austin made the recent move to the housing first model. 

According to the Austin Department of Housing website “On March 25, 2010, the Austin City Council passed a historic resolution directing staff to develop a strategy that would prioritize the City's affordable housing resources - including federal and local monies - for permanent supportive housing (PSH). The unanimous action was the result of several interconnected initiatives that culminated in Austin elected officials pledging to create 350 units by 2014 for residents most vulnerable to homelessness.” 

Since this original resolution that was quickly surpassed at the end of 2014 the city has passed new resolutions to build hundreds of more PSH Housing First units. These goals could not be accomplished without the support of the Austin community and businesses. It’s important that Austinites embrace this new housing so that homeless residents can get the help and support they need. 

There are still disagreements between Austinites over the best approach toward homelessness. For example the ability to sit, lie or camp in public spaces or the ability to panhandle.

Over the summer of 2019, the city council and Austin residents and business owners have fought over the correct approach to ending homelessness. On July 1, 2019 the city lifted the ban on homeless people pitching tents on public spaces. This in turn made the homeless population that has existed in Austin much more visible. The city council is currently holding town halls to speak with residents and hear their concerns.

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